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Banks to write security rules for “.bank”

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2011, Domain Registries

Financial services firms unhappy with ICANN’s new top-level domains program are to take matters into their own hands by writing security guidelines for TLDs like “.bank”.

BITS, the technology policy arm of the Financial Services Roundtable, said it plans to develop “elevated security standards for financial gTLDs” and wants ICANN to make them mandatory.

The organization, which counts many major world banks as members, is concerned that a “.bank” in the hands of a registry with lax security could increase fraud and reduce confidence in banking online.

BITS said its guidelines would be drafted by a globally diverse working group and submitted to an international standards-setting organization for ratification.

It wants ICANN to include a single sentence in its new TLDs Applicant Guidebook, apparently incorporating the guidelines by reference:

Evaluators will use standards published by the financial services industry to determine if the applicant’s proposed security approach is commensurate with the level of trust necessary for financial services gTLDs.

An ICANN working group is working on the concept of a High Security Zone TLD for precisely this kind of application, but in September the ICANN board abruptly decided that it “will not be certifying or enforcing” the idea, apparently in order to mitigate its own corporate risk.

The BITS project appears to be in direct response to that move.

It certainly seems to be a more productive avenue of engagement than hinting at a lawsuit, which it did in a November letter to ICANN.

I’m attempting to confirm whether the BITS plan, submitted as a response to the Applicant Guidebook public comment period, is being proposed with ICANN’s backing. (UPDATE: it isn’t.)

No cheap TLDs for poor countries

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2011, Domain Registries

Applicants in the developing world that hoped to get a new top-level domain on the cheap will be disappointed after proposals to help subsidize their applications were watered down.

The ICANN GNSO Council last week voted against measures that could have reduced application fees or asked ICANN set up an aid fund for applicants from poor nations.

ICANN’s application fee for a single TLD is $185,000, but it is widely expected to cost most applicants at least double or triple that, once add-on fees and consulting costs are taken into account.

While this is not a lot of money if you’re a big corporation, it’s a substantial barrier to entry if you’re an entrepreneur or community initiative from a poorer country.

So for several months an ICANN working group known as JAS, for Joint Applicant Support, has been working on ideas for how ICANN and others can support less wealthy applicants.

The group wanted to do further work to establish ways to subsidize the application fee, set up an ICANN fund using revenue from TLD auctions, and negotiate registry-level support.

But the GNSO Council voted those ideas down last Thursday, ostensibly on the basis that they were too far-reaching and “beyond the scope of the GNSO” to approve.

The vote was split roughly along party lines, with almost all of the support for the broader motions coming from non-commercial stakeholders.

Business interests such as registrars, registries, ISPs and intellectual property stakeholders voted in favor of a more “limited” set of objectives.

Proponents of the new limited charter tell me that they remain supportive of the work of the JAS, but that they did not believe it has the expertise to carry out such far-reaching work.

I suspect that commercial factors also played a role. For example, the JAS wanted to:

Discuss with Backend Registry Service Providers the extent of coordination, to be given by Backend Registry Service Providers (e.g. brokering the relationships, reviewing the operational quality of the relationship) and propose methods for coordinating that assistance

But the registry-supported replacement resolution, which was approved, asks the JAS to instead:

Propose methods for applicants to seek out assistance from registry service providers.

References to reduced application fees for needy applicants, and to the need for an ICANN-supported fund, were cut entirely.

The changes received majority support on the Council, but were not universally welcomed. Former Council chair Avri Doria called it “neocolonialism”, and wrote on her blog:

The only kind of aid the JAS WG is allowed to work on is aid that makes a applicant from a developing economy beholden and subject to the control of an incumbent or an expert.

Because the JAS working group was a joint effort of the GNSO and At Large Advisory Committee, it now has two charters – one broad, one narrow – and it’s not entirely clear how its work will proceed.

But it does seem that the $185,000 application fee is here to stay, no matter where you come from.

Cute sees .org’s future in new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Registries

The Public Interest Registry sees new top-level domains as an opportunity to strengthen the .org brand as well as add new TLDs to its stable, according to newly appointed CEO Brian Cute.

“We have the new round of gTLDs opening up soon, and I see that as genuinely an opportunity for PIR, so a lot of our strategic focus will be there,” Cute said in an interview.

Internationalized domain name TLDs will play a major role in this strategy. Cute said that “expanding .org into the IDN world” will be the key focus.

While PIR plans to apply to ICANN for several IDN variants of .org, there’s less interest in expanding into ASCII strings or outside of the company’s “public interest” mission.

“We not particularly looking at that opportunity,” Cute said.

He also believes that the large number of new TLDs ICANN is expected to authorize could actually strengthen .org as a brand.

“There will be lots of new entrants, lots of new competition,” he said. “The environment will be one where if we play our cards right, we’ll be able to be successful and in fact flourish.”

Cute was named CEO of PIR earlier today. Previously, he worked at Afilias, a close partner, so his learning curve at his new employer will be relatively gentle.

He said he doesn’t plan to shake things up much.

“I don’t see any need to make any major course corrections to our strategy,” he said. “It’s now a matter of execution. There will be new competition so we will have to execute well.”

Brian Cute named CEO of .org

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry, which manages the .org domain, has named Brian Cute as its new CEO, following the resignation of Alexa Raad last August.

Cute was most recently a vice president at Afilias, which provides .org’s back-end registry infrastructure. Before that, he was with VeriSign, .org’s original custodian.

He’s a familiar face to many in the domain name industry and the ICANN community, most recently chairing ICANN’s Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

Cute replaces Maarten Botterman, PIR’s chairman, who had stepped into the CEO’s office temporarily after Raad quit. He starts February 1.

IP lawyers call for halt to new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2011, Domain Registries

Some trademark interests are ratcheting up the rhetoric in opposition to ICANN’s new top-level domains program, with one company calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

While ICANN’s extended public comment period on the proposed final Applicant Guidebook does not end until the weekend, a Danish bloc of companies has already made its objections known.

The most vociferous views so far this week have come from Lundbeck, a drug company that researches treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Lundbeck trademark counsel Søren Ingemann Larsen accused ICANN of operating “fake” comment periods that ignore feedback from the trademark lobby.

In a cap-happy missive, he said the program should be “HALTED” until ICANN can prove the domain market lacks competition, then “cancelled” if such proof is not forthcoming.

The fact of the matter is that the only entities that are in favour of the Program are the ones who can make money out of it, and that is ICANN and the Registrars. The “internet community”, including private users and brand owners, are NOT interested.

Lundbeck, which has brands such as “Cipralex” and “Xenazine”, does not appear to be a major target for cybersquatters, judging by how many UDRP complaints it has filed (none).

It did however join CADNA, the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, at the same time as prolific UDRP user Lego Juris, last November.

Lego, and a few other companies submitting virtually identical comments to ICANN this week, have reiterated criticisms of the program’s trademark protections expressed in previous months.

But they have now also seized upon elements of the latest independent economic report into the costs and benefits of new TLDs, which ICANN published last month.

One extract Lego and the others quote questions whether new TLDs are needed to provide some of the services proposed by community TLD wannabes:

Are there other ways to achieve the primary objectives of the proposed gTLD, such as: (a) second-level domain names; (b) certificates; (c) software tags; and (d) filters that look at content beyond the URL and any tags? How do the alternatives, if any, compare in terms of their likely effectiveness in achieving the primary objectives of the gTLD and the costs they would impose on different members of the Internet community?

It’s an interesting argument – that a community TLD could just as well operate as a second-level domain – not one I recall reading in a long while. I don’t think it has legs.